(CNN) — As a writer at The Idea Village in New Orleans, I’ve interviewed dozens of entrepreneurs, ranging from new founders of fledgling companies to seasoned leaders who have launched several successful businesses.
On occasion, I walk out of an interview believing that entrepreneur will change the world. Other times, not so much.
Somewhere between “Shark Tank” and the myriad Silicon Valley success stories, the idea of entrepreneurship has become glamorous — even sexy. But ask anyone who has worked in the trenches of the startup world, and they will quickly wave away that notion. The stark reality is that being an entrepreneur is arduous and daunting. Yet for those who are willing to take the path less traveled and commit their lives to one idea, or several ideas, it can be extremely rewarding.
So what is the stuff that successful entrepreneurs are made of? How do you define that certain je ne sais quoi that enables an entrepreneur to convince skeptics their idea is the next big thing? Moreover, what allows those entrepreneurs to take their idea and turn it into a profitable company?
Launching a startup is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires stamina, and you have to be fit to sustain the lifestyle. Founders inevitably come up against failure on a daily basis. While some ideas work, more often they don’t. You try, fail, and try again.
Nine to five? Forget about it. Most startup teams clock 80 to 90 hours a week in the launch phase. As one tech entrepreneur recently told me, having an idea is just the first step on a long road. You have to have the intestinal fortitude to put your head down and get through the process.
The startup world can be a jungle, and the most successful entrepreneurs have a keen ability to quickly adapt to their habitat. So much can change from the inception of an idea to the final product — unforeseen problems arise; the market changes; demand changes. Successful entrepreneurs recognize that and are willing to try a different approach when something isn’t working. In startup jargon, it’s called pivoting. They can duck, dodge, dive to escape the metaphorical bullets of the entrepreneurial landscape while remaining laser-focused.
One local entrepreneur admitted to me without hesitation that being a pioneer is terrifying because it means you don’t have a road map. As a founder, you have to become a jack of all trades. You are the manager, the IT department, the marketing department, and somewhere in between all of that, you have to get your work done.
They’re risk takers
Entrepreneurs are, above all, risk takers. They are willing to part ways with a job that offers a plush salary and benefits to pursue their idea or business. Or they start with nothing — and no guarantee.
We often hear entrepreneurs’ grandiose success stories, but we don’t always hear about the long, tumultuous journeys that led them there. I once asked a solo founder about the scariest part of being an entrepreneur. He told me about the time his funds were dwindling and his wife called him from the grocery store checkout line to inform him their credit card had been declined. Now that’s real.
They’re imaginative doers
After working with several fledgling companies early in his career, Andrew Yang started to believe entrepreneurship could solve many of the problems plaguing both the economy and young professionals.
So what did he do? Yang created Venture for America, a nonprofit organization based on the Teach for America model, that recruits top college graduates to work for two years at emerging startups and early-stage companies in lower-cost cities like New Orleans, Detroit and Cleveland. Venture for America now has fellows working with startups in 12 cities across the United States.
Entrepreneurs see the world differently. Where other people see problems, they see opportunities. But it’s one thing to have a great idea — it’s a whole other thing to see that idea through. Successful entrepreneurs don’t just dream; they’re willing to go out and create solutions.
At our hub, we have a saying plastered on the walls: Trust Your Crazy Ideas. It’s the foundation for the work we do with every entrepreneur who walks through our doors. Every successful entrepreneur who built a great enterprise started with a crazy idea.
Here’s a simple question: Who is the first innovator who comes to mind when you think about entrepreneurship? I would venture to say that whoever you thought of, at any given point in his or her life, someone called that person crazy. Entrepreneurs face doubt, not only from others but also from themselves. It’s those entrepreneurs who are confident enough to believe in their ideas, and stick with them, that change the world.
In the startup world, the success of an entrepreneur often hinges on building trust. Whether they’re pitching to venture capitalists, accelerator program managers or potential future customers, entrepreneurs are essentially selling an idea or product that doesn’t yet exist. It’s all based on assumptions.
Time and time again, I’ve heard the words, “People don’t invest in companies, they invest in people.” Investors are constantly being pitched by entrepreneurs eager for capital. Before they can persuade someone to sign a check and infuse a startup’s lean bank account, entrepreneurs must first convince the investor that they can be trusted.
After all, investors aren’t doling out big bucks for charity. They are making long-term investments, and they want to know that their money is in good hands.
Summer Suleiman covers entrepreneurship as the Blackstone correspondent at The Idea Village, a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurs in New Orleans. She also produces New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, an annual business festival celebrating entrepreneurship and innovation.
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